Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marketing Messages As Reflexes

As a followup to my last post, I want to comment on how many simple marketing messages have reached the status of a reflex in some people — and how extreme some of these messages are. These are formulaic messages I’m talking about, but they are often stated in stark terms, almost like an ultimatum. For example, “You can’t afford to keep paying this expense month after month,” as an argument for an alternative that requires only a single payment. Or, “You can’t afford to take that risk.” Both of these marketing messages tell you that you are on the verge of insolvency, and that making the wrong decision could push you over the edge.

It’s a rather extreme assertion when you look at it in literal terms, yet it becomes a reflex in some people, an automatic, unthinking part of their decision-making and their criticisms of their friends and family members.

Any such message can be turned on its head easily enough, to make a case against a purchase. To say, “You can’t afford to keep buying the money-saving equipment that advertisers are always telling you about,” is at least as rational as any other form you might have heard for this formula.

The fact that a reflexive thought can so easily be directed in completely opposite directions shows that it is not rational at all. Of course, a reflex can’t be rational, but it could be based on a rational idea. Perhaps turning an idea into a reflex like this takes away all the rationality.

The most dangerous marketing message of this kind that I can think of right now is the “You don’t have time” message. The ultimate point of it, I am afraid, is, “You don’t have time to make a rational decision.” The answer for this, for someone who has internalized this formula and made it a reflex, is to make a game out of making a rational decision about something, such as a purchase decision. If it’s a game, then you can spend several minutes at it, looking at it from several different points of view and enjoying the whole process. After that experience, the next time you hear, “You don’t have time,” it won’t mean quite the same thing as before.